Nine cash-strapped northeastern governors have banded together to use the uncertainty brought on by the Persian Gulf War to lobby for release of $87 million in federal energy assistance for their states.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan, New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio (D) pushed for the additional resources, which would be added to $1.4 billion already distributed this fiscal year.
The extra aid, part of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, is supposed to be sent to the states when heating oil prices rise higher than 20 percent of the average cost for the past four years.
Florio said in his letter the price -- $1.26 a gallon in December -- has increased by nearly 40 percent and the money should now be released.
"Oil prices are so incredibly volatile and so many of the heating problems are in the northeast, our one concern is, how soon can we get our hands on the money," asked Mark Wolfe, deputy director of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors.
The Department of Energy must certify that the trigger to release the additional funds has been reached before the states receive the money. Wolfe, however, noted that the funds were supposed to be released on Jan. 15, the same day as the U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
"Clearly with the situation in the Persian Gulf and the volatility of the market, that was a concern," said Stavroula Lambrakopoulos, director of Florio's Washington office. "The region's governors felt it was important to get the money released to do what it was intended to do."
Kevin Moley, Sullivan's assistant secretary for management and budget, said Sullivan has received the Florio letter and intends to give it due consideration. But supplying this year's funds, he said, does not guarantee that the program will continue into fiscal year 1992. The administration's plan to cut the $1.4 billion program by about one-third as part of the presidential budget to be announced later this month, a move protested by low-income housing advocates and the governors. Sullivan had proposed cutting the funding in half and directing it to only the nine northeastern states.
"This program was begun in the last years of the Carter administration as part of the response to the energy crisis," Moley said. "It was supposed to be a temporary emergency program."
Maine Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. (R) has said requests for heating assistance have risen 20 percent in his economically depressed state this year. His state would receive $4.2 million more if the additional funds were released.
The largest beneficiary of the added funds would be New York, which would receive $37.2 million. New Jersey would receive an additonal $12.4 million.